Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
The Indian capital's heavy traffic is suffocating its bus system.
Think your wait for the bus is bad? In New Delhi, the average wait time on one of the city’s 517 bus routes is 70 minutes.
The preliminary findings of a study by the Institute of Urban Transport and the Urban Mass Transit Company Limited were released today, and the results for the North Indian metropolis are not good. The news adds to Delhi's reputation as a commuter's nightmare: IBM placed Delhi 5th worldwide in its commuter pain index last year, trailing only Johannesburg, Mexico City, Moscow, and Beijing. Delhi is India’s largest city in area—688 square miles—and has the second-largest population, at 16,753,000 people.
Plagued by rising car ownership and the ensuing traffic problems—Delhi also hosts one of the world’s biggest auto shows every year—city planners see mass transit as the best way to get drivers off the streets. But the Indian capital is confronting a vicious cycle: the more people drive, the slower the buses run. And the slower the buses run, the more people drive. Fifty-five percent of the people who pass through the city’s Chirag Delhi intersection do so in buses, though buses make up less than 2 percent [PDF] of vehicles on the road.
The 70-minute wait time average may be inflated by late-night infrequency and rural routes, but there are other damning statistics. Only 34 percent of the city’s 8,450 buses meet the study’s standard urban bus specification. And there aren’t nearly enough of them: Delhi has one bus for every 1,983 people. (New York has one bus for every 1,472 people; Mexico City, thanks to a vast army of microbuses [PDF], has a bus for every 361 people.) Delhi’s southern rival Mumbai has 13,239 buses for about 18 million people, or one bus for every 1,390 people.
In an editorial piece that accompanied the results of the study, the Times of India wrote:
“Neither homilies and empty rhetoric, nor harsh words will make people switch over to the public transport system… [the government] has to introduce more buses sooner rather than later.”
Top image: Flickr user Carol Miller.